It is so crazy to think that fall is already upon us. The foliage is already changing into brilliant hues and the air is a lot crisper. School has kept me on my toes for the past few weeks but today I am back (finally, but as promised) to share my feelings and reflect on my trip to China. I will shine light on both the good and bad that I have experienced.
Despite my excitement before embarking on this trip, I actually had mixed feelings about it. For one thing, I realized that I could not do the things that I found crucial for a to-be senior; I could not work more hours, visit colleges, study for standardized testing, lose some extra pounds that resulted from Junior year stress, etc. How am I going to make it through Senior year?! The other excuses came from my biased and unjust lens on what it was like to live in China. For example, I worried over the mosquitoes, toilet holes, sanitation and authenticity of food and water, creepy people, and basically everything about China that was broadcasted through the TV and media here. I most definitely have not been everywhere in China, and I know that issues seen in the news may exist.
But to be honest, based on my experience, China does not fit the above descriptors at all. We must remember that the media’s portrayal of something does not tell the whole story and that we must not form our opinions solely on what we are thrown with. Just like how the American society continues to evolve, so does the Chinese society. Life in Beijing and Nanjing are parallel to life in New York or any other urban city in the world but with a touch of Chinese elements. Hipsters, business people, fashionistas, international students, artists, love-birds, all bustle about their lives in China. In France, Syria, Italy, Japan, or most other city in the world besides the States, squatting toilets are ubiquitous. Some days there certainly are clear blue skies and ever-present greenery and songbirds, even in those big cities like Beijing. Mosquitoes in Seattle bit me more severely than the ones in China, judging by the magnitude of my body’s allergy reaction. I cannot even recall seeing any creepy people in China either.
Looking back, I realize how naïve I was and how limited of a scope I had of the world (I still am, though less ignorant, which is what is important). I thought I had an unbiased view because I was always cautious about letting news change my beliefs, but how wrong was I! This trip has taught me so much more than I could have if I had stayed in Seattle. Seriously, do not judge what you do not understand. Gilmore reference aside, I hope that my documenting this trip through this blog may open your eyes and inspire you to find out reality yourself.
Something I also realized on this trip was how important it is to find time to nourish your body and mind and to take a break from the busy world to do what makes you feel happy. I have heard this advice so many times before yet I never actually stopped to imagine how possible it is to have fun. If something is that important to you, you will (and successfully) make time for it. When I was in Nanjing, I saw that my cousins have grown into mature, confident, and incredibly diligent college students. They are generous, caring and full of a genuine manner. Even though they worked so hard to get into Columbia and Waterloo, they still have time to enjoy life by going out in the city or working on other endeavors aside from school. That being said, it is very important to work hard! One of my cousins chose to study for her actuary test over a bibimbap lunch out. It is all about balance I suppose.
Before we left Tongren, my grandpa called Sharon and I aside and gave us some life advice. One of them was to take the time every so often to assess the state of your fruits. You have to acknowledge your accomplishments and the steps that you still have to take to get to a goal. Just chugging along without reflection will not help you grow as much as you’d like. Grandpa also told us to forgive and forget the past mistakes or conflicts because holding on to these negative thoughts makes one bitter. And live a shorter life.
Ah, family… I miss them all already…
Speaking of Tongren, one of my favorite pastimes was leaning out the large windows of grandpa’s balcony to look out. (The apartment allows for a 300-degree view on the small city circumscribed by the mountains. Since they are on the 11th floor, they did not bother to install mosquito nets, so it was really quite exhilarating for a person afraid of heights!) Gazing out at the distant lights down below or the hazy mountains in the distant and hearing the faint beeping of taxis at night was always the time I gave myself to rewind and reflect on the day.
Some problems that I think can improve the environment in China is educating people how not to spit on the ground all the time, throwing trash into the garbage, and being aware of consuming resources and not purchasing useless stuff. I see this issue mainly in smaller cities and to attempt to solve it seems like a great project to work on next time I visit Tongren. In bigger cities, I have noticed that people have already taken initiative to eliminate waste and carbon emissions, plant trees on the roadsides. My aunt in Beijing even has around 18 pots of large and small plants by her alcove next to the large windows. People are just making wiser choices.
There was a Humans of New York blog post that really summarizes my point and I really would like you to give it a read.
Imagine that every time you have a lapse in judgment, it gets printed in newspapers around the world: every time you lose patience with your children, every time you scream at someone in traffic, every time you drink too much and do something you regret. Each time you slip up, everyone hears about it. The world is never notified about the 99.99% of the time that you are a completely normal, productive, law-abiding citizen. The world only learns about you when things go wrong. Now imagine what the world would think of you.
It’s not that terrorism, patriarchy, and violence aren’t real problems in Pakistan. They exist and the country is battling these issues every single day. Pakistanis are very much aware of the extremism in their midst. The problem is that so many people seem to only be aware of that extremism. Because just as in the hypothetical example above—the other 99.99% of life just doesn’t make the news. When there’s only room in the newspaper for a single column about Pakistan, it’s going to be filled with the most compelling story. And unfortunately, that tends to be the most violent story.
And those are important stories. Those are the types of stories that expose corruption, stop genocide, and alert the world to emerging threats. It’s right for those stories to be told. But when those stories are all that we hear, it’s so easy to imagine a world that’s far scarier than it really is. You lose sight of the 99.99% of the world that’s not scary at all. And living in fear can be a dangerous thing. Because if we’re afraid of each other, we’ll never be able to work together to solve our common problems.
Sometime during my time in Tongren, I fell upon a quote that said how for every new language that you master you acquire a new perspective on the world. I remember just realizing how obviously fitting it was. While mastering a new language leaves you less ignorant, I believe just by immersing yourself wholeheartedly in another culture can give you more insight on the world that we belong in together.
There’s no doubt that I will not be going back but that will take some time as I am a broke student. Anyways, I will stop here. I wish that you took something away from this concluding post on China even though there may be things that you do not completely agree with that I have said. But like I mentioned before, I am only 17 and still learning!
I cannot wait to show you what I learn and experience next!